The stadium was full, the ambiance superb and Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan walked with his shoulders soaring above his height.
Thousands of fans, many of them school children cheered ceaselessly as he stepped into the Warri township stadium for the opening ceremony of Africa Youth Athletics Championship otherwise known as AYAC Warri, 2013.
He went round the stadium and the students cheered him on with so much passion that he occasionally reached out for a 'high five' with some of them who were cheering and thrusting their hands. Each time he did so, they went wild in celebration.
Chepwogen Mercy , Jepkemei of Kenya after clenching Gold and Silver medals in the 3000m event and Ejummeta David wins first gold for Nigeria. Photo: Henry Unini
The students were there to watch young athletes from the continent take to the tracks in a youth event that could make them world beaters. And when the opening ceremony started, 34 African countries were in the stadium. The crowd was unprecedented in track and field in Nigeria. Not even football attracts such crowd.
The facilities were first class and the brief show entertaining. A cultural show had gone on after Africa's Queen of the tracks Mary Onyali Omagbemi sang the National Anthem. A historic relay followed. 86-year-old Awoturo Eleaya started and the baton went to Tony Urhobo, Victor Omagbemi, Ogho Egwero and the daughter of Onyali, Tia Alero who together with Elaeya handed the baton to Uduaghan.
It was a symbol of some transition from the past generation of great athletes of Delta origin to the present and the future as represented by Tia who is already running in the United States. They handed over to Uduaghan to keep up his good work in sports development. Uduaghan said he was keeping the baton not only as a souvenir but a reminder of the race he must continue to run for sports in Nigeria.
"It's only in the World Championships and Olympics that I have seen such an atmosphere and facilities," Duro Ikhazuaegbe, Sports Editor of Thisday said, adding "Delta has raised the bar tremendously." Dare Esan, a known Track and Field reporter showered encomiums on the facilities and said "this is good, this is beautiful for Africa."
"We can't believe this is a youth competition. The facilities, the atmosphere and the organisation. This is good for our sport," Haman Said from Djibouti said. He is an official. Their coach Para Navello repeatedly said "great, great, great," blowing a kiss to fully express himself.
Head of Confederation Africa Athletics Marketing Department Aminata Gueye shook her head several times and said "this is amazing, it's crazy. We don't get this in senior championships."
Moses Bantsi from Botswana who represented President of CAA Ahmed Kalkaba appeared emotional in his speech: "Africa is at home in DeltaState. The championships will create an venue for kids in Africa to compete with their mates at the world level.
We thank the Governor of the state as well as the people of Warri for creating the atmosphere to stage a competition of this magnitude. We are at home here and it's been a great feeling. Nigeria is our country, DeltaState is our state and Warri is our city."
Sports minister Bolaji Abdullahi commended the state for the facility they put up and said that the competition would afford young talents in Africa to show their skills and develop from there. Dr. Uduaghan welcomed all to Warri, wished them a wonderful stay and declared the championship open amidst cheers. Before then, popular artist Inyanya had thrilled the crowd.